Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 24, 2006
BASKETBALL: Embrace Your Destiny

Bill Simmons is dead-on again with this second column on Kobe Bryant, dealing with his 81-point game. The whole "I'll show I'm really unselfish" thing when he sat after cracking 60 in three quarters was just pointless. Like Bill said after the criminal trial, Kobe now has to embrace his destiny as a Barry Bonds-style bad guy who doesn't let up, doesn't apologize, doesn't care what you think of him, gives no quarter and asks none; that's the only role left to him.

I recently finished reading Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, (reviewed here by Frinklin), which picks up the story of Anakin/Vader (and others) shortly after the end of Revenge of the Sith. More on that later, but the point here is that the book reminded me of Bill's point about Kobe: Vader spends a lot of the book whining to the Emperor about the limitations of his suit and his spacecraft and fleet, obsessing about the Jedi, cursing the events that led to his wife's death and his mutilation, and otherwise wallowing in self-pity. Eventually, though, he accepts the fact that his old life and old ties are gone, that he can't go back to the places he was before, and goes about single-mindedly pursuing power and domination because that's the only avenue he has left. The result puts him on the path to being the Darth Vader of the original trilogy - ruthless, powerful, feared by allies and foes alike.

I'm not suggesting that Darth Vader is a good moral role model, of course. But I found the parallel intriguing: whatever private redemption Kobe might undertake, his only plausible public role, at least on the court, is to become a single-minded dominator of his opponents. He'll never get credit for being a nice guy anyway.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:30 PM | Basketball | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

Was that the way Dick Cheney approached things after his 6th bypass surgery?

Posted by: Mike at January 24, 2006 5:36 PM

Not usre about the Vice-President, that is sure the course Slick Willie took when they found the blue dress.

Posted by: maddirishman at January 24, 2006 7:25 PM

Rhett Butler came to mind when I read your description of DV - kind of an honorable bad guy. I read Gone with the Wind a few years back. Good read.

Posted by: Cass at January 24, 2006 8:25 PM

Not to harp on the Star Wars subtheme here, but - would you recommend the book?

Posted by: Jack at January 24, 2006 8:38 PM

Now that Shaq is gone, the best way for the Lakers to win is probably to build a team that relies on Kobe to get 40 every night, like the Sixers have done fairly successfully with Iverson. So Kobe may as well just embrace his inner shameless gunner and see what happens, at least as long as the current roster remains.

Posted by: Jerry at January 24, 2006 11:07 PM

Jack - Depends on your level of Star Wars geekiness. I really enjoyed it myself. You should read "Labyrinth of Evil," the book that leads into Episode III; this is by the same author in the same style.

Posted by: The Crank at January 24, 2006 11:49 PM

Kobe is destined to be a scoring machine on a bad team. THe only other decent player on the Lakers, Lamar Odom, looks miserable and he will never get good players to play with him. As for the comparison to AI and the Sixers, that is somewhat correct but the Sixers are stuck in Limbo. From a financial standpoint, the Sixers couldn't get rid of AI for two reasons: 1) WHEN YOU TRADE A SUPERSTAR YOU NEVER GET BACK EQUAL VALUE (i.e. Charles Barkley and most recently Shaq) and 2) the Sixers until this season had a near sellout for every game. The lakers and Kobe are stuck with each other and will re relegated to a first round playoff exit or a late lottery pick every year with Kobe's play and salary restricting most good free agents from signing.
As for Crank's point, I like the comparison. The guy has gone "to the dark-side." The only question is when he gives his Hall of Fame induction speech, will he thank a single person?

Posted by: Phanatic at January 25, 2006 10:31 AM

Simmons' column underplays, grossly, one important fact: the Lakers had fallen behind by 18 points in the third quarter, seemed destined for a dispiriting loss, until Kobe, singlehandedly, took over the game, willing his team to victory.

He wasn't jacking up shots for no reason at all; he did so to win the game. Say what you want about Kobe, but no one can deny that he's one of the fiercest, most competitve athletes in the history of his sport.

Posted by: LA Cajun at January 25, 2006 11:45 AM

Dear Phanatic,

One of the reasons the Lakers traded Shaq was to clear humongous salary cap space after next season -- by which time the team calculated Shaq would be well into his dotage as a player, a decision that looks better by the day in light of Shaq's declining performance. So it's not true that Kobe's salary will cripple the team; rather, the team will have a great deal of salary cap space after next season -- enough cap space to make the team a legit contender again.

Posted by: Hugo Vasquez at January 25, 2006 11:52 AM

LA Cajun, people aren't desputing that Kobe can play or is competitive, same with Bonds. What people want is someone they like as a person. Everyone thought Albert Belle was a great baseball player, but he was a jerk. Apparently he still is, even in retirement. Ty Cobb is RARELY mentioned in the pantheon of great players because he was a racist jack @$$. Kobe will never inspire the kind of reaction Jeter, Jordan, Duncan and KG generate because they are LIKEABLE.

Honestly, I love it when a guy like Kobe (or Tracy McGrady) wants to be "the man". It simply creates 2 teams that can't win a championship, their new team and the team they left (or forced someone else to go to in Shaq's case).

Posted by: The Juice at January 25, 2006 12:12 PM

I wouldn't say Cobb is rarely mentioned, although he probably gets less attention as being one of the top 2 or 3 ever than he likely should.

Posted by: The Crank at January 25, 2006 2:09 PM

Crank, maybe you can answer this, maybe not. But why is it that from an era when probably 95% of the players held what we would now consider virulently racists views, Cobb has emerged as *The Racist* of the 60+ years of Jim Crow baseball?

I've long suspected that almost no one who calls Cobb a racist could give one example of his racism.

I have no reason to doubt he was a racist -- born in rural Georgia in the 1880s, hmmmm, why would I think that? -- but as compared to Anson or hundreds of others? Why?

Posted by: Mike at January 25, 2006 2:29 PM

Cobb was particularly bad. There's evidence. Almost unique among high-profile players of his era, he would not play exhibition games against Negro League teams, or teams from the Carribbean w/ black players.

Also, there's his notorious and relentless taunting of Babe Ruth. "N---er!" "Look at those n---er lips!", etc. Caused a brawil betw/ Yanks and Tigers in 1924. Game ended up being forfeited. Cobb's rep as a racist scumbag, even by the standards of the time, was well-earned.

Posted by: seamus at January 25, 2006 3:20 PM


Thanks. You just gave me more indicia than I've read/heard in 10 years.

Posted by: Mike at January 25, 2006 3:45 PM

kobe bryant is the best player to ever play the game of basketball. Michael Jordan? Who the hell was he?

Posted by: shacalford at January 26, 2006 10:51 AM

Hugo Vasquez:

Shaq is owed $20M through 2009, however, the liklihood of his retiring in the next two years is extremely high. The Lakers still owe Odom/Grant $27M through next year and the free agent pool is not looking promising for next year. With the old CBA, you had to be within a tight percentage on salary to make a trade so they did not help their cause out at all. Grant is gone, but they still have his contract through next year. They have a miserable Lamar Odom, who looks more and more frustrated by the day through 08-09, the biggest NBA draft bust yet (Kwame Brown) at approx. $9M through 07-08, and drafted a high school center way too high who can't become effective by never getting the ball. Now, I know a lot of NBA teams have awful cap numbers, but the Lakers are in the bottom quartile. Granted the Lakers do go down in salary considerably after next year, it is difficult to build a team merely through free agency. The slow rebuilding process should begin at the latest this summer and L.A. hasn't done a thing yet.
Even after all of this, they still have to deal with a player that needs his hands on the ball every possesion and does not often pass. I agree with the earlier post that he is a fierce competitor, but he is that way to a fault. Larry Brown built a defensive team around AI, but they still lived or died by one player. Unless Kobe has an epipthany, the Lakers are destined to mediocrity.

Posted by: Phanatic at January 26, 2006 11:10 AM

Sorry I'm late here. The ironic think about Kobe "embracing the dark side" is that it would be the one thing that might actually like him. I have hated Kobe for many years (way pre Colorado-gate) for being a complete selfish jerk and utter cloying phony. I loved it how "surprised" people acted when he allegedly raped that woman. "He couldn't have done it. We know Kobe. He's always smiling when the cameras are on him." Classic. Apparently I was the only person who was not even remotely surprised. If he at least admits who he is he gets rid of the phony part and I might actually respect him as a person for just being himself.
Re The Juice. "Kobe will never inspire the reaction that Jeter, Jordan, Duncan and KG generate because they are LIKEABLE." Duncan and KG maybe. Speak for yourself on the other two guys. Jeter is a phony pumped up by the insufferable NY media and I detested Jordan even more than Kobe. Just an empty, soulless shell of a man who concocted a blandly inoffensive personality to sell Nike.
Re Phanatic. Kwame Brown is not the biggest bust in draft history. This is just part of the NBA's PR offensive against high schoolers. Even amongst fellow number 1 picks Michael Olowokandi has sucked twice as bad without receiving half the crap for it because he had the decency to go to college.

Posted by: Ted at January 28, 2006 7:29 PM


Good comments. But even as a Yankee-hating Met fan, I have to give Jeter his props. He plays to win like a MoFo, and his joy at playing baseball (very well, I'll note) is legit. Has the NY media propped him up a bit? Yeah, but he didn't need it.

I hate to say it, and I wish he was on my team, but he's the real deal.

He's great.

Posted by: Mike at January 29, 2006 10:38 AM

Hey,Ted:Perhaps you'd like one of those semi-literate,
gangsta wanna-bes who are giving the NBA(not to men-
tion young African-American men) horrific reputations.
As for Mike:Cobb beat up a black groundskeeper's wife
in Augusta,Ga. in 1906;kicked a black maid down three
flights of stairs when she objected to his calling her a
"N*****";stabbed a black elevator operator in Cleveland
after much the same thing,but not until the man beat Cobb's head almost soft with his nightstick;and on May 18,1912,beat up a handicapped fan in the Polo Grounds,where the Yankees then played,when the man called him a "half-n*****."When I was a boy,
just the mention of Cobb would set off my father and
grandfather,who played for the Chicago American Gi-
ants of the Negro League.

Posted by: Cowboy at March 9, 2006 2:35 PM
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